Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sewing Project: Croquet Party Dress

Once a year, my family has a get-together that we simply call "the Croquet Party". It's kind of a big deal. My aunt and uncle have been hosting this cookout every August since I was merely a bump in my mom's belly (and my cousin, who is 7 weeks older than me, was a bump in my aunt's belly). Last August gave us the opportunity for something momentous: the debut of grandchildren at the Croquet Party. Not just my sweet AB, but also my cousin's daughter, who happens to be 7 weeks older than AB. And no, we did not plan that!

For AB's first Croquet Party I wanted to make her a special dress. Obviously, it must be croquet-related, as we do in fact play croquet at the Croquet Party (seriously, there's a tournament and a trophy and everything). At that time, I had only been sewing for a few weeks, and I was mostly working on tutorials from Pinterest. I didn't yet feel comfortable spending money on patterns. I ran across a tutorial on luvinthemommyhood for what she called "the Sweetheart dress". It's a sleeveless dress with a heart cutout in the back. I thought it looked very cute and would be perfect for a special summer occasion. The tutorial made it seem like it was something I could conquer, even though it's a lined dress without a pattern, and I hadn't yet made anything like that. I have since revisted the site and I see that she has taken down the tutorial and released this dress as a paid pattern. I can't blame her! 

I knew that I had to have the most perfect fabric, and I spent a LOT of time searching the internet for anything that had to do with croquet. I did find some quilting cotton with croquet balls on it, but I wasn't too in love. Then, finally, I found this:

Fabric from The Stitching Post.

Elephants playing croquet! At first, I found random yardage on eBay, and then eventually I located it in a quilting shop right here in Indiana. And in four different colors! I calculated how much it would cost in gas to drive there, vs. how much to ship it to me, and I chose shipping (sadly). Probably saved myself more than just gas money by having 1 yard shipped to me, rather than making a trip to the shop!

Yes, it somehow still fits her now. Easter dress anyone?

This fabric is really adorable. Even though it's available in pink, I went with green to keep it from being TOO sugary sweet (but trust me, I labored over the color choice for about three days). For the lining, I went to Jo-Ann's and just picked out a fat quarter in a coordinating color. I only lined the bodice, so I didn't need much fabric. I also picked up some muslin in order to work out the pattern before I cut into my precious elephants.


Since this is now a paid pattern, I'll hit on my personal experience with it rather than taking you through all the steps.

That's a hair bow being tossed on the floor.

First up was the muslin. I traced the bodice of a dress that looked similar to what I wanted, and went from there. It was not a quick process. AB was 4-5 months old at the time, and not the most willing participant! I went through a few versions before I had my front bodice pattern.

I essentially copied it for the back, but also drew a few different hearts on paper to work out how I wanted that to look. Basically, a lot of trial and error! I then transferred the heart shape onto my back bodice pattern piece so that I would have a cut-out heart shape on center back.

I cheated a little on cutting the skirt. Because the elephants LOOK sort of random (they're actually on a diagonal) it didn't hurt the effect too much to run the skirt fabric in a different direction than the bodice. One selvedge was a thin white line, and I cut my skirt so that the selvedge was the hem. I used the full length of the piece and just gathered it into the bodice. Even though it was a tad lazy, I truly do like the effect and I'm happy with it.

Hem detail

The second change I made was with the elastic closure. I had this clever idea to use elastic thread, instead of regular elastic, to minimize how big the closure looked. I even braided three strands to make it a bit stronger, but it still broke within an hour of AB wearing it. Lesson learned! I replaced the elastic loop later, but since the dress was already assembled it's not sewn between the two layers. It's ugly, but now much more efficient!

Inside view. Ugly!

I love the lining and I love all the topstitching. I went very carefully, especially around the heart and armholes, to make sure it looked nice and neat. Of course, coordinating thread helped!

Working on this dress was probably my first experience sewing something that was a "labor of love". Everything from searching for the fabric to picking out the button was done to make something special. AB only wore it for a few hours (and somehow I managed NOT to take many pictures!) but the dress means a lot to me. I hope that when she is grown, that the Croquet Party lives on, and maybe she will have her own daughter to share this dress with, or, at the very least, she can share the memories.

"Seriously Mom, I hate hair bows."

At the Croquet Party.
I can't believe she was ever this small...

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